Cities in the Global North are increasingly adopting green interventions meant to enhance their climate resilience capacity.

Plans include Philadelphia, PA’s Growing Stronger, Boston, MA’s Resilient Boston Harbor (Fig. 1), Malmö, Sweden’s Green and Blue Infrastructure Plan, and Barcelona, Spain’s Green Infrastructure and Biodiversity Plan. Such plans and interventions mark the emergence of a new type of climate planning: green climate resilience.

 

In today’s cities, however, low-income communities, people of color, and migrant communities face well-documented forms of climate injustice. Typically, these populations have contributed the least to climate change, have had the least access to environmental amenities such as green space, are the most exposed to climate hazards and effects (1), and have the fewest resources to adapt (24). We argue here that an emerging fifth type of climate injustice arises because these populations are among the social groups most likely to experience residential and social displacement—in the short and mid-term—from green climate infrastructure (57) and its associated gentrification risks. It’s what we call green “climate gentrification.”

 

As a group of social scientists who specialize in environmental justice, we thus call for climate researchers to demystify the supposed benefits of green climate interventions and identify inequities embedded in urban green resilience (89), especially interventions related to green climate gentrification.

 

Research Priorities

 

Research needs to uncover the pathways by which the impacts and risks of green resilient infrastructure might be worsening the security and vulnerability of long-term residents and creating green climate gentrification First, quantitative/spatial analyses need to establish who is moving to new greened and protected areas and who is being displaced to neighborhoods that have few environmental and social safeguards. Also, researchers need to examine the extent to which resilient green infrastructure might create greater vulnerability for future gentrification. Neighborhoods with a high proportion of green resilient infrastructure might indeed also be more exposed to gentrification in the future (e.g., if they are close to waterfronts or have lower rents) and demonstrate greater sensitivity to climate impacts (e.g., if they have a higher proportion of elderly residents or residents who are not native speakers).

 

Second, further spatial and qualitative analyses should identify which neighborhoods are targeted for green resilient infrastructure and the reasons for these investments. It might be that these projects are frequently placed in neighborhoods where the types of risk do not call for green infrastructure, and that managed retreat might, in some cases, be a more environmentally and socially sound answer. Researchers should also parse the types of green resilience investments responsible for the most and the least disruptive displacements. That is, which green resilience projects are likely to provide broadly shared versus privatized benefits.

 

Third, ethnographic research would help explain what social vulnerability means in the context of green climate gentrification. We need improved understanding of how people respond to climate threats and to the displacement that adaptation responses might cause and how community groups support them.

 

Fourth, qualitative research on policy and planning processes will help move from understanding risk (and resilience) as the exclusive domain of experts to approaches that integrate citizen science and vernacular knowledge (22), especially the traditionally overlooked knowledge of racial minorities and immigrants. This would allow residents to recognize themselves in green infrastructure planning while fostering individual and local community identity. Doing so would ensure greater inclusion and participation to address green climate gentrification risks.

 

Such research is particularly needed as residents’ perceptions of climate risks—especially those of disenfranchised social groups—tend to clash with dominant visions, discourses, and practices of municipal greening and resilience. Here, we call for specific community-based participatory research processes—in which researchers partner with respondents—to uncover local spatial knowledge and perceptions, through which residents can share and map their own notions of risks, adaptation capacity and resources, and overall ecological street knowledge.

 

See more: https://www.pnas.org/content/116/52/26139